When We Can’t Accept New Patients

Peter ForsterAbout GPS, GPS Update Leave a Comment

We are truly sorry. We are a small clinic and so at times we are not able to accept new patients.

We don’t believe in waiting lists. We think that people should be seen when they need the help rather than being told to wait for a future appointment.

Whenever we can accept new patients we are committed to offering at least one potential appointment within a week of getting all of the patient forms filled out. This takes a lot of work and a lot of juggling of our schedules but it’s the only thing that we can do, as a small clinic, to stand up for the value of access to care.

We can’t fix the fact that there are not enough mental health professionals. That is a problem that has developed over the last 20 years, because of insurance companies’ policies of denying mental health care, and reimbursing mental health clinicians at a rate that is often 50% less than what they pay other comparable clinicians.

Unfortunately solving this problem is also going to take time, since we have to encourage people to enter training programs.

What can you do when you would like to be seen at Gateway but we are not able to accept new patients?

Reach out to other clinicians. Although it can be a challenge, if you are persistent you can find good care elsewhere.

We can’t keep track of the hundreds of clinicians in the Bay Area who might be able to provide care. We have a very short list of people that we think do good work (some of them are mentioned on our links page), but we don’t know whether they are accepting new patients or not.

Here are some other good resources.

  • Circle Medical a UCSF affiliated primary care clinic. This clinic indicates that they will prescribe controlled substances (benzodiazepines and stimulants) after a first visit which can be scheduled quickly.
  • The Northern California Psychiatric Society has a find a psychiatrist directory.
  • The American Psychiatric Association also has a psychiatrist finder directory.
  • Psychology Today also has a directory of psychiatrists and therapists.

The problem is caused by insurance companies and they have to be asked to help.

  • Call your insurance company – There should be an access number on your insurance card (sometimes there is a special mental health access number). Call them and tell them that you have tried to get care and that you aren’t able to find a mental health provider or a psychiatrist who is taking new patients. They have a legal responsibility to contract out of network if their existing network is not able to meet demand. We have more about how to manage this process in a separate blog post. Please note that you will be much more likely to get help if you carefully document the names of in network psychiatrists (psychiatrists who are supposed to be accepting new patients) that you have contacted and what response, if any, you got (here is a discussion about how to do that).
  • Go online to your insurance company’s website – You should be able to search for a list of appropriate mental health professionals (remember that if you need medication treatment you will need to select for a psychiatrist in your search). Again, you should carefully document your efforts to contact people who are listed on that site as in network and able to provide care – this will be very important if you try to contact a number of psychiatrists and can’t find anyone who will see you. If you print out a list or create a PDF of that list and email it to us we may be able to provide some recommendations about people we know on the list. Those recommendations will be either strong recommendations, if we have direct knowledge of the clinicians care, or weaker recommendations if we just know of the person and know their general reputation in the community.
  • Get help from the California Department of Insurance – Recently the Department of Insurance has been focusing a lot of attention on the problem of inadequate provider networks and they have been very helpful when people complain.

A colleague of ours has written a very thorough document that outlines an approach to getting care that you may want to consider, especially if you are trying to get a particular kind of help.

A final word, unlike many mental health clinicians, we take care to respond to people’s inquiries even when we are not able to accept new patients. Unfortunately, this lays us open to negative reviews from people who have no knowledge about the care we provide to our patients. Almost all of our negative reviews are from people who wanted to receive care from us but contacted us at a time when we were not able to accept new patients. Most of them note that, unlike everyone else they reached out to, we responded promptly.

If you’re frustrated because we aren’t able to accept new patients please don’t write a negative review, especially if you don’t take the time to send us a list of potential mental health clinicians from your insurance panel so that we can at least help you with that piece. Write a scathing letter to the Insurance Commissioner. Contact your California Assembly representative. Those are the folks who have the ability to change the system.